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5. Concept of Operations



Due to the nature of the DOI Pandemic Influenza Plan,elements of the plan are activated in stages based on the location, duration, and severity of the pandemic. It is activated as a means to:

  • Stop, slow or otherwise limit the spread of a pandemic to the United States
  • Limit the domestic spread of a pandemic, and mitigate disease, suffering, and death
  • Sustain infrastructure and mitigate impact to the economy and the functioning of society.
Partial activation of this plan allows the flexibility to react based on the situation. It also ensures that the Department remains responsive to the Federal Government Response Stages (FGRS).

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5.1 Response to Federal Government Response Stages

The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined six phases that follow the cycle of a new influenza virus emerging and leading to an increasing number of animal and human cases, and its eventual spread throughout the population/world as a pandemic. Further details about the WHO Pandemic Phases are found in Appendix D.

Interconnected with the WHO Pandemic Phases are the FGRS.  The FGRS provide a framework for Federal Government actions, and are follows:

  • Stage 0: New Domestic Animal Outbreak in At-Risk Country (current stage)
  • Stage 1: Suspected Human Outbreak Overseas
  • Stage 2: Confirmed Human Outbreak Overseas
  • Stage 3: Widespread Human Outbreaks in Multiple Locations Overseas
  • Stage 4: First Human Case in North America
  • Stage 5: Spread throughout United States
  • Stage 6: Recovery and Preparation for Subsequent Waves

The current WHO Pandemic Phase is Phase 3 (with human infections with a new sub-type, but no human-to-human spread, or at most, rare instances of spread to a close contact). As stated in the Implementation Plan, “it is the policy of the Federal Government to accelerate preparedness efforts prior to WHO Phase 4, then initiate pandemic response actions at Phase 4, when epidemiological evidence of two generations of human-to-human transmission of a new influenza virus is documented anywhere in the world.”

The Department of the Interior has identified actions it will take and measures it will implement based on each FGRS, and these are found in Appendix E.

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5.2 Plan Activation Authorities

The Secretary of Homeland Security is responsible for coordination of the Federal response during a pandemic, and supports the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ coordination of overall public health and medical emergency response efforts. The Secretary of Homeland Security is also responsible for coordination of the overall Federal response to the pandemic, implementation of policies that facilitate compliance with recommended social distancing measures, the provision of a common operating picture for all Federal Departments and Agencies, and ensuring the integrity of the Nation’s infrastructure, domestic security, and entry and exit screening for influenza at the borders.

The Secretary of the Interior has the authority and responsibility to fully activate (or activate portions) of the DOI Pandemic Influenza Plan in response to an actual or potential pandemic. In accordance with DM 900, the Secretary has delegated this responsibility to the Assistant Secretary - PMB.  Bureau Directors also have the authority to activate their respective pandemic influenza plans independent of an activation of the DOI Pandemic Influenza Plan.

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5.3 Prioritization of Departmental Activities During a Pandemic

During health emergencies, the objective of the Department is to continue executing its activities to the greatest extent possible while limiting the spread of disease, sustaining infrastructure, and mitigating impact to the economy and the functioning of society. To ensure this, prioritized functions are reflected in Bureau pandemic influenza plans and in Appendix P for the Offices in the Immediate Office of the Secretary and those reporting to the Assistant Secretary – PMB.

Strategies and policies have been developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), OPM, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), as well as other Federal Departments and Agencies, to mitigate the impact of the disease on employee health and ensure the Mission Essential Functions of the Federal Government continue with no or minimal interruptions. DOI has adopted these strategies and policies, and will implement them on a phased basis.

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5.4 Strategies

The strategies outlined in this section provide DOI’s leadership with a range of options for continuing operations.  

It is important to note that human resources options, such as administrative leave, as well as safety and health precautions, including personal protective equipment (PPE), work practices, and personal hygiene practices, depend on the circumstances and the nature of the task being performed.  In addition, they can be implemented in conjunction with one another or independently, depending on the situation, for further details refer to Appendices F - H for the health and safety guidance, and Appendix I for human resources information.  Appendix O contains pandemic influenza planning checklists created by HHS and CDC that will also be useful for the EMS, Law Enforcement, Correctional Facilities, Individual/Families, Schools (Kindergarten - 12th Grade), and Colleges/Universities sectors.

Table 5-1. Strategies for Protecting Employees During a Pandemic

1
Meeting in groups and crowded workplace. During a pandemic, this needs to be modified to account for social distancing

2
Instead of meeting in person, discuss over the phone and hold conference calls.

3
For all employees who are not required to be in the office/workplace to perform their duty, telework may be an option (see Section 5.4.4).

4
For employees who must be in the office, practice social distancing (see Section 5.4.1), and vaccinate according to CDC guidance (see Section 5.4.2).

5
For employees who must be in the office, practice social distancing (see Section 5.4.1), and vaccinate according to CDC guidance (see Section 5.4.2).

6
In some cases, leave (i.e. annual, sick, or administrative leave) may need to be utilized.

7 Obtained from the National Archives online exhibit The Influenza Epidemic of 1918
For those DOI employees who need to interact with the public, handle wild birds or perform other high-risk activities, provide appropriate PPE (see Section 5.4.3).

Images 1 – 7 portray:
1: Meeting in groups and crowded workplace. During a pandemic, this needs to be modified to account for social distancing, as portrayed in images 2 – 4, 6:
2: Instead of meeting in person, discuss over the phone and hold conference calls.
3: For all employees who are not required to be in the office/workplace to perform their duty, telework may be an option (see Section 5.4.4).
4 - 5: For employees who must be in the office, practice social distancing (see Section 5.4.1), and vaccinate according to CDC guidance (see Section 5.4.2).
6: In some cases, leave (i.e. annual, sick, or administrative leave) may need to be utilized.
7: For those DOI employees who need to interact with the public, handle wild birds or perform other high-risk activities, provide appropriate PPE (see Section 5.4.3).


5.4.1 Social Distancing

The HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan, Part 2, Supplement 4: Infection Control, recommends that “infection control in the community should focus on ‘social distancing’ 2 and promoting respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette and hand hygiene to decrease exposure to others.” This pandemic influenza plan follows the guidance provided by HHS with regards to social distancing and promotes social distancing as an appropriate strategy to ensure employee health.

As a means of preventing the spread of disease and continuing operations, DOI will implement the social distancing measures described in the following subsections. These measures are applied either partially or fully depending on the severity of the pandemic in the area. Detailed, DOI-specific, guidelines are in Appendix F, Table F-1.


5.4.2 Vaccination and Anti-Viral Medications

CDC is developing guidance on anti-viral medication and vaccine distribution and use during an influenza pandemic.  DOI's interim prioritization scheme is located in Appendix G.  Those DOI personnel supporting COOP and other Mission Essential Functions, as well as those performing emergency services, critical infrastructure, and critical homeland and nation security services are among those included in the priority groups for receiving pandemic vaccination.  When vaccine is available, COOP team members will be required to be vaccinated in order to gain access to the Departmental alternate sites.

Current guidance as it pertains to those DOI employees in high risk of exposure settings, such as handling wild birds, is described in more detail in Appendix H

In addition, employees should receive the current season’s influenza vaccine. This will reduce the possibility of dual infection with avian and human influenza viruses that could occur and result in viral reassortment (mixing of genes from human and avian viruses to form a new, mutated form of the influenza virus).


5.4.3  Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

To reduce the transmission of infection in these non-occupational/non-healthcare settings, the CDC’s interim guidance provides recommendations for the use of facemasks and respirators in certain public settings during an influenza pandemic. In brief, these interim recommendations advise the following:

  • Whenever possible, rather than relying on the use of facemasks or respirators, close contact and crowded conditions should be avoided during an influenza pandemic.
  • Facemasks should be considered for use by individuals who enter crowded settings, both to protect their nose and mouth from other people's coughs and to reduce the wearers' likelihood of coughing on others. The time spent in crowded settings should be as short as possible. 
  • Respirators should be considered for use by individuals for whom close contact with an infectious person is unavoidable. This can include selected individuals who must take care of a sick person at home or as part of their duties at work. 
  • Facemasks and respirators should be used in combination with other preventive measures, such as hand hygiene and social distancing, to help reduce the risk for influenza infection during a pandemic. This interim guidance will be updated as new information becomes available.

Facemasks are loose-fitting, disposable masks that cover the nose and mouth. These include products labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation, and laser masks.  Facemasks help stop droplets from being spread by the person wearing them. Respirators (for example, N95 or higher filtering facepiece respirators) are designed to protect the wearer from breathing in very small particles, which might contain viruses.

At this current time, the CDC does not recommend the routine use of masks or other PPE for the general workforce.  Guidelines on the minimum PPE to be employed by those DOI employees working in higher risk of infection situations (such as handling animals potentially infected with HPAI, performing emergency services, or other situations with close contact with potentially infected wildlife and people) is outlined Appendix H.  PPE use and training for DOI employees is done in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.132 – 134.  The interim guidance provided in this plan on PPE will continue to be reevaluated as more information is available and as the characteristics of the pathogens are better defined.

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5.4.4 Telework 3

Telework will be a key method for social distancing while continuing the Department's operations during a pandemic. Using guidance from OHR and OCIO, telework agreements are in the process of being developed with certain DOI employees to enable them to work from home during a pandemic.  The Department’s remote access policy is in Appendix J.

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5.4.5 Leave & Other Human Resources Flexibilities

During a pandemic, Bureaus and Offices need to plan for employee absenteeism rates reaching as high as 40 percent during the peak weeks of a community outbreak.  Therefore, Bureaus and Offices should utilize a variety of means, including annual, sick and family medical leave, as well as scheduling and staffing flexibilities, to ensure the continuity of DOI’s operations and essential functions.  Human capital guidelines and policies for the Department of the Interior are in listed Appendix I, including:

  • Bureau Planning & Readiness
  • Dismissal & Closure Procedures
  • Annual Leave, Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave
  • Payroll & Personnel Tracking
  • Compensation & Pay Flexibilities
  • Evacuation Payments
  • Telework Policy
  • Staffing Flexibilities
  • Fitness for Duty Policy
  • Grievance Policy
  • Family Assistance Program
  • Benefit Issues.

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5.4.6 Continuity of Operations

Some aspects of COOP planning are applicable in pandemics.  Detailed guidance on COOP operations is found in the DOI COOP Plan.  The following subsections provide supplemental guidance on COOP activities during a pandemic.


5.4.6.1 Alternate Operating Facilities

DOI has identified and prepared alternate operating facilities to support COOP operations, including facilities geographically dispersed from the National Capital Region. If a pandemic hits the United States, DOI employees, and COOP team members specifically, may be dispersed in smaller groups to a variety of alternate facilities (as a mean of social distancing) to perform DOI’s Mission Essential Functions. DOI also has plans in place for flexible/staggered scheduling of employees, including night shifts, to ensure the maximum distance between members of the workforce.

Host organizations of DOI’s alternate sites are required to develop operations plans to address the movement, protection, housing, and feeding of staff during the implementation of the DOI Pandemic Influenza Plan if deployment is required. Additionally, these plans need to address social distancing techniques, quarantine of rotated staff, and isolation of employees who may become ill while deployed. Further direction on protecting health and safety of employees at their normal duty locations as well as at alternate operating facilities can be found in Section 6 and Appendices F - H.


5.4.6.2 Special Provisions for COOP Team Members During a Pandemic

Employees working at Departmental COOP Sites during a pandemic are required to take certain precautions before deploying and upon arrival.  Some of these requirements include: being screened (to ensure not infected), receiving vaccination (if available) and influenza anti-virals, quarantining at COOP site (first few days of arrival) to determine individuals are not infected, and working flexible/alternate schedules (to reduce the numbers of personnel in the COOP Sites at one time, social distancing).  For additional information, refer to Appendix E (specifically FGRS 4 – 6), Appendix F (specifically Sections 4 – 5), and Appendix I for the Fitness for Duty policy.  In addition, in a pandemic, in activation of the DOI COOP Plan, family members will not be allowed to accompany COOP team members to the Departmental COOP Sites.


5.4.6.3 Activate the DOI COOP Plan

To the extent possible, the Department continues to perform its normal functions.  Should the Department’s workforce be significantly impacted, the Assistant Secretary – PMB has the option to fully or partially activate the DOI COOP Plan.  In addition, in the event of an emergency/incident/disaster or the threat of one occurs during the influenza pandemic, the Assistant Secretary – PMB can activate the DOI COOP Plan.

Activating the DOI COOP Plan would shift the Department’s functions to a focused effort and personnel devoted to the continuation of DOI’s 13 Primary Mission Essential Functions (PMEFs), Secondary Mission Essential Functions (SMEFs), and supporting activities as identified in the DOI COOP Plan.  (For additional information specific to the pandemic as it relates to DOI COOP, refer to the DOI COOP Plan, specifically Section 4.)

Using the concept of operations outlined in the DOI COOP Plan, the Assistant Secretary – PMB determines which group of COOP team members deploy to which alternate facility. As an additional measure of social distancing, COOP team members could be divided between the Departmental alternate operating facilities identified in the DOI COOP Plan.


5.4.6.4 Reconstitution

As the pandemic subsides, the reconstitution of normal DOI operations is based on employee availability. The Assistant Secretary - PMB assesses the capability of the Department to resume normal operations.

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5.5 Employee Reporting & Accountability and Departmental Status

During a pandemic, employees use normal reporting procedures to inform managers of their location and health and to track employee status.  In addition, Bureaus have established phone numbers for employees to call when unable to report directly to supervisors during emergencies.  If required, the Emergency Employee Locator System (EELS) on the Department’s Emergency Management webpage (http://www.doi.gov/emergency) is used to supplement normal employee accountability systems. HR communities within each Bureau are responsible for collecting such information and may have additional back-ups and redundancies for employee accountability.

Employees access facility and Departmental status information through the following mechanisms:

  • Building status phone numbers located on DOI badges or distributed through Bureaus
  • DOI’s Emergency Management website http://www.doi.gov/emergency
  • Bureau websites
  • OPM announcements.

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5.6 Employees Returning to Work Once Recovered

As referenced in Appendix E (specifically for Federal Government Response Stages (FGRS) 4- 6, DOI employees who fall ill with influenza, and subsequently recover, are able to return to work once deemed fit for duty in accordance to the Fitness for Duty policy (outlined in Appendix I).  These employees will have acquired immunity and are an important asset to maintain continuity of Departmental operations and accomplish the Department’s critical missions.

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